Yes, I know the Road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby hasn’t even officially started yet. And yes, I’m well aware that it’s way (way) too early to start ranking next year’s top Derby contenders.
But hey, we all love talking about future stars, and since the Del Mar and Saratoga meets are over (and the upcoming weekend racing action is quieter as a result), why not embrace the fun and tackle the task of creating a Top 10 list of contenders for the 2019 Kentucky Derby?
That’s what I’ve done, and I hope you’ll all join me by creating your own lists! With fully eight months remaining until the Derby, here’s how I rank the top contenders….
1. Game Winner
Trainer Bob Baffert has won the Derby five times and the Triple Crown twice, so it’s only natural that I should start off with Baffert’s promising Game Winner on top. The son of Candy Ride is bred to relish classic distances, yet he’s already shown a ton of talent sprinting, breaking his maiden impressively at Del Mar before rallying to win the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) in a fast time against a strong field. Should he go on to win the Kentucky Derby, he’ll join Silver Charm and American Pharoah as Baffert-trained runners who swept the Del Mar Futurity/Kentucky Derby double.
From a strictly talent perspective, I could easily rank Instagrand on top, considering that he’s won his first two starts (including the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes) by a combined 20 ¼ lengths, defeating his rivals with ridiculous ease and authority. The only reason he’s not at the top of my list is because he’s bred more like a miler and has yet to face any meaningful competition, but all that could prove to be irrelevant considering how much raw talent he appears to possess.
3. Tale of the Union
The second of three Baffert-trained runners in my Top 10, Tale of the Union sold for $925,000 as a two-year-old in training and lived up to expectations with an eye-catching debut at Del Mar, in which he overcame a slow start to crush his rivals by eight lengths in a fast time. As a son of Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Union Rags out of a Tale of the Cat mare, added distance shouldn’t be an issue.
It’s probably just a matter of time before trainer Chad Brown wins a Kentucky Derby, and Complexity looks like one of his top hopefuls for 2019 after defeating a field of maidens by 4 ¼ lengths on closing day at Saratoga. The son of Maclean’s Music set a quick pace but still finished up strongly with a final quarter-mile in :24.76 seconds, earning an eye-catching 90 Beyer speed figure.
This widely-hyped son of Quality Road was billed as Baffert’s latest star prior to his debut at Del Mar, which he won in convincing fashion with a rally from just off the pace. That victory established Roadster as the clear favorite for the Del Mar Futurity, but after settling in second place early on, he failed to finish as strongly as expected and came home third behind stablemate Game Winner. Was it a disappointing performance? Yes, to an extent. But he nevertheless posted an 89 Beyer in defeat, and I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet.
6. Trophy Chaser
Maybe he was aided by a sloppy, sealed track… but wow, Trophy Chaser looked like an absolute freak while breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park, tracking a quick pace before exploding clear of his rivals to win by 15 ¾ lengths, running the final quarter-mile in a rapid :23.37 seconds en route to a 96 Beyer. Conditioned by Juan Avila, previously one of the leading trainers in Venezuela, the sky appears to be the limit for this son of Twirling Candy.
There was plenty to like about Endorsed’s maiden victory at Saratoga. After breaking slowly, he was urged to get back into the race and never really got a chance to relax, but despite this challenging setup, he produced a powerful finish in the final quarter-mile, running that fraction in about :24 1/5 to get up and defeat the favored Chad Brown entrant Ahead of Time by a neck, earning an 89 Beyer. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, this Godolphin homebred is a son of Medaglia d’Oro out of the Grade 1-winning Tapit mare Dance Card, so longer distances shouldn’t be a concern.
8. Code of Honor
Trainer Shug McGaughey doesn’t win very often with first-time starters, so I sat up and took notice when Code of Honor won his debut at Saratoga this summer. The son of Noble Mission has a somewhat turf-oriented pedigree, but he showed a clear affinity for dirt while upsetting heavy favorite Wild Medagliad’oro in a six-furlong maiden sprint, earning an 86 Beyer.
He couldn’t quite get the job done as the heavy favorite in Saratoga’s Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), but he was rallying late and is bred to be at his best going two turns, so I think the future remains bright for this Bill Mott-trained youngster, who has yet to race on Lasix.
10. Gunmetal Gray
Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, this son of Exchange Rate finished fifth behind Roadster in his debut at Del Mar, but subsequently stretched out to a mile and won in dominant fashion, producing a strong finish from just off the pace to win by 6 ¾ lengths with an 89 Beyer. The fact that he’s already won around two turns is eye-catching, and while he hasn’t attracted nearly as much attention as stablemate Instagrand, I do think Gunmetal Gray could have a lot of potential.